Owls belong to one of two families: Tytonidae (barn and bay owls) and Strigidae (all other owls). The only Tytonid in North America is the Barn Owl.
Owls are typically nocturnal or crepuscular. However, this pattern changes in winter, when owls branch into different times and habitats to search for food.
Because owls vocalize at a distinctively low frequency, their songs can travel long distances without being absorbed by vegetation. Becoming familiar with these songs will help your identifications.
In general, owls hunt in two ways:
Perching and pouncing — usually from a low perch, common among forest owls
Quartering — flying low over the ground, common among open-country owls
Owls have evolved many important adaptations, including a few that help with hunting:
- Large heads, accommodating large eyes and ears
- Extremely mobile heads, capable of rotating 270 degrees
- Asymmetrical ears, able to calculate flight angles of prey
- Feathers that absorb all sound, creating silent flight
To help with identification, we separate owls into two categories: those with ear tufts or horns called “tufts”; and those with round heads, called “round-headed.” To identify an owl, note these field tips:
- Whether the owl has tufts or is round-headed
- Eye and bill color
- Plumage color and other distinct markings
- Relative size of the owl
- Details of the owl's habitat
- Distribution of the owl in guide books